The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted to deny an appeal from local millionaire and hotelier Pat Nesbitt, who requested a conditional use permit and coastal development permit to build a helipad on his private property located at 2800 Via Real Lane. With a 3-2 vote, the board voted to uphold the Planning Commission’s decision from November 2019 denying his request for a permit.
According to the board letter from Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Nesbitt initially proposed building two helicopter landing zones on a 10-acre grass field on his property located in the Summerland/Carpinteria area. Prior to the project’s initial hearing before the Planning Commission on September 25, 2019, the hotel owner altered the project by reducing the number of helipads from two to one. He also reduced the landing pad’s initial hours of operation of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
After instructing its staff to return with findings for denial, the Planning Commission made the required findings and denied the project at a hearing on November 7. Mr. Nesbitt then submitted a timely appeal on November 15.
His appeal made four main allegations: That the commission’s denial of the project was inconsistent with the provisions and purposes of the County’s zoning ordinances; that the commission’s denial wasn’t based on substantial evidence; that the commission didn’t consider the evidence in support he put forth for consideration; and that the project didn’t receive a fair and impartial hearing.
Reasons County staff cited for why the helipad shouldn’t be built included incompatibility with surrounding residential areas; loud noises of helicopters potentially startling horses on nearby equestrian trails, thereby threatening trail users; and loud noises from helicopters disrupting those living in nearby residential areas. Additionally, the Planning Commission received 200 letters from members of the public opposed to Mr. Nesbitt building a helipad.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Nesbitt remarked that he purchased his agriculturally zoned property in 1993 when it was “essentially a hazardous waste dump.” He added that over the years he has secured permit after permit to develop his property, and that his initial meetings with the Department of Planning & Development indicated it was okay for helicopters to land and lift off from his property.
“I was told amongst other things that as an agriculturally zoned property, I did not need a permit to land helicopters. For the next 23 years, helicopters routinely flew on and off my property,” he said.
According to Mr. Nesbitt, complaints from nearby residential areas about low flying helicopters flying overhead are not from his property. He claimed that since June 2017, no helicopters have flown on or off his property except for two days it was used as an evacuation site for victims of the Thomas Fire and debris flows of Jan. 9, 2018.
The agenda letter states that the flight path Mr. Nesbitt’s Robinson R44 helicopter would have taken was an “ocean route” rather than the “mountain route,” as the latter would have disturbed nearby residences.
Mr. Nesbitt said of the disturbances cited as evidence against his request, “That’s not my helicopters. My helicopters do not fly over anybody’s houses.”
Following a public comment section that was largely against supporting the appeal, Mr. Nesbitt said members of the public who dislike helicopters flying low over their neighborhoods will still have to put up with them with or without his helipad.
“You can deny my permit, but every one of the complaints you’ve heard here this morning is not going to change. There are going to still be 700 helicopters flying over Santa Barbara County every month,” he said.
Second District supervisor and board chair Gregg Hart, First District supervisor Das Williams, and Third District supervisor Joan Hartmann voted to deny Mr. Nesbitt’s appeal, while vice chair and Fourth District supervisor Peter Adam and Fifth District supervisor Steve Lavagnino voted in support of the appeal.
In other business, the board received an update on COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County, received an update on progress toward the goals of the County’s Energy and Climate Action Plan, adjusted the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 library special tax rate for greater Goleta’s Second and Third Districts by 3.1%, and adopted a resolution levying special taxes within the Orcutt Community Plan and Providence Landing.